Environmental groups have slammed a proposal from an advisory group handpicked by the Morrison government, for the prioritisation of the gas industry in a post-Covid economy, saying the move a clear conflict of interest.
The National Covid-19 Coordination Committee (NCCC), appointed by Morrison to provide advice on potential economic stimulus in response to the Covid-19 crisis, has reheated a previously discredited proposal for a trans-Australia pipeline that would link Western Australia with the East-coast gas market.
The NCCC has been largely stacked with representatives of Australia’s oil and gas sectors, and is chaired by gas industry executive Nev Power, includes EnergyAustralia managing director Catherine Tanna and is advised by oil executive Andrew Liveris who is an independent non-executive director of overseas oil giant Saudi Aramco.
The Morrison government has not outlined what process was used to select the members of the Covid-19 Commission, which heavily features fossil fuel executives and lacks any representation from the not for profit sector.
Environmental groups have said that it should not come as a surprise that the NCCC has been advising the Morrison government on how to undertake a “gas-led” economic recovery, which has seen restrictions on new resource exploration relaxed and proposals for financial support to be directed into the sector.
In a speech delivered to the National Press Club, federal minister for industry, science and technology, Karen Andrews, said that the Morrison government would continue to look for ways to reduce “red tape” for the resources sector.
“I point to the collaborative work being done with my colleague Keith Pitt in developing opportunities in our resources sector,” Andrews said.
“One of the other areas which I believe is absolutely crucial is simplifying red tape and regulation to fast-track interaction with all levels of government.”
The latest proposal to construct a trans-Australia gas pipeline has already been the subject of a feasibility study undertaken by ACIL Allen and GHD, which found the project did not stack up economically.
“The West–East Pipeline does not currently appear to be the best or most economical option for dealing with the supply issues currently facing the gas market in Eastern Australia,” the 2018 study said.
The moves by the NCCC to revive the gas pipeline proposal has been met by heavy criticism from environmental groups.
“Just a day after the Coalition signalled its intention to gift more taxpayer money to coal barons for the carbon capture and storage pipe dream, it’s concerning that they also want to rip up the rulebook so fossil gas companies can poison our water and continue to exacerbate the climate crisis without scrutiny,” Greenpeace Australia Pacific Head of Research and Investigations, Dr Nikola Casule said.
Campaign group GetUp! said that the proposal was a clear sign of the favouritism being shown by the government towards the fossil fuel sector, and reflected the kinds of outcomes that could be expected when fossil fuel executives were placed in charge of Australia’s economic recovery.
“There’s no such thing as cheap gas. Gas pipeline projects aren’t viable, they won’t create jobs and they will have catastrophic climate impacts,” GetUp’s First Nations campaign director Larissa Baldwin said
“Nev Power is recycling old ideas that have failed their own financial feasibility studies, this exact pipeline was slammed as “ridiculously stupid” just last year.”
“The unelected and unaccountable National COVID Commission is led by former mining CEO Nev Power and riddled with fossil fuel lobbyists to push a gas-fuelled recovery that will destroy our climate.”
350 Australia CEO Lucy Manne questioned the unresolved conflicts of interest that exist within the NCCC, that have clearly manifested in the oil and gas executives leading the commission advocating for the government to prioritise the gas sector.
“There are important questions to ask about conflicts of interest given that members of the hand-picked NCCC and Manufacturing Working Group could stand to benefit from the Narrabri gas project,” 350 Australia CEO Lucy Manne said.
“Whilst the government and their opaque Covid Commission have their heads buried in gas, the world is moving beyond fossil fuels. In just the past week, Australia’s major banks, insurers and superannuation funds have joined the chorus calling for climate action.”
“If the Government were to prop up gas projects and pipelines they should be prepared for widespread community opposition in places like Narrabri where the local community has been defending their land and water from this gas project for over a decade,” Manne added.
The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) joined the chorus of criticism, saying that the poor performance of the gas sector over the last decade meant that it did not deserve to be the centre of a “gas-led” economic recovery.
“There are a couple of ways to fix both prices and the supply of gas in Australia without developing new sources,” IEEFA’s gas analyst Bruce Robertson said.
“A gas-led recovery is not one of those ways. It is unbelievable how silly this proposal is from the COVID Commission. Gas and LNG prices have bottomed globally, and companies everywhere are virtually giving gas away.”
Shareholder advocacy group the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility challenged the notion that gas as an appropriate “transition fuel” in an energy sector needing to transition to lower sources of energy.
“Nev Power and Angus Taylor are flogging a dead horse with the argument that gas is a transition fuel. This is simply no longer the case,” ACCR director of climate and environment Dan Gocher said.
“Even the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) has confirmed that we do not need more gas in order to transition to a renewables-dominated grid. The fact is that Nev and others on the Commission stand to benefit from delays to transition. Their conflicts of interest are not being properly managed.”
“The NCCC and our political class seem to have forgotten that just a few months ago we were in the grip of deadly, climate change-related bushfires. The climate crisis is primarily caused by burning fossil fuels, it will not be solved by burning more fossil fuels.”
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